Tuesday, November 12, 2013

John Gray on The Nature of Beliefs

Philosopher John Gray, who is a favorite of this blog, has an interesting brief interview that was conducted by the Nexus Instituut.  He asks questions about the inability of humanity to advance ideological goals or systems due to the lack of uniformity of humanity as a whole and the innate simplifying nature of those goals.  Gray is always provocative.  Note here that he speaks of certain need for universal agreement around particular facts in law, medicine, etc (with the knowledge that these may need to be changed in light of new evidence).  Gray has also previously spoken about a sense of semi-universal ethics and I was disappointed that he didn't pursue this line further in his most recent book The Silence of Animals, which is especially notable given the world views Gray expresses in the video below and in his writings.

Gray's arguments are similar to those made by the likes of Daniel Dennett (in Breaking the Spell) regarding the nature of belief and the problems humans present for themselves by attempting to impose colonizing ideological systems.  Further, due to the confirmation bias, people are particularly bad at using feedback mechanisms and thus responding to data.  (I have written at length on this tendency here and here).  Science, the scientific method and Popperian "falsification" are ways of getting around these limitations, but they only function within particular narrowly defined constraints.

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